Happy Mid-Autumn festival
, everyone - hope y'all haven't overdosed on mooncakes yet!Typhoon Fanapi
, the first major cyclone to hit the region this year, tore straight across the island last Sunday, leaving in its wake the most severe flooding the southern port city of Kaohsiung has seen in 50 years. Up here in the North, the damage wasn't quite as bad. After the storm had left for the Mainland Chinese coast in the late afternoon, the torrential rains subsided, but massive gusts still rendered it dangerous to venture out at all, let alone onto deserted mountain roads. But common sense is often left by the roadside when it comes to obsessions, so I went up into Yangmingshan National Park Sunday night for a two-hour walk to check what manner of herptiles the tempest had brought out. Needless to say - yet again, the animals proved to be much smarter than the average German bear, so I didn't see a single snake and only two (most likely mentally challenged) little tree frogs. Instead, I found myself hanging on to my wind-blasted headlamp while clambering over massive tree branches littering the road, fearing the next one to come down would smack me on the noggin any minute now.
Monday night, the winds had stopped, the county road crews had cleaned up the roads, the forest was nice and wet, and that's when I should have gone herping. But of course, work kept me from leaving (what idiot invented work anyway?), so I had to wait for my daily post-breakfast constitutional Tuesday morning. That day, the sun had already dried the roads when I arrived at 10 a.m., but the ditches were crammed to the rim with dripping leaves which the storm (and the road crews) had moved there. Subsequently, after twenty minutes of ditch patrol my pants looked like as if I'd gone fly-fishing in a raging river. But at least the air was clear and mild, the sun was shining, the dragonflies racing, and I even had the great fortune to spot a Taiwan Whistling Thrush
hopping around the rocks in a mountain creek the typhoon had turned into a whitewater paradise. This is a very shy bird that skedaddles at the slightest sign of intrusion, and being able to observe it for a few minutes from atop the bridge spanning the creek was a real treat. Its purple-black plumage might not look like much in photographs, but it really comes alive with a thousand stunning variations of iridescence when the sun hits it from different angles. Hard to believe there are so many shades of dark purple!
After this pleasant intermezzo, I actually kind of loathed getting back in the ditch, because the going was pretty hard. But after another ten minutes of slogging through knee-deep, soggy leaf litter, without hopes of actually finding anything - the stuff was just TOO wet! - my mechanically digging snake hook suddenly came back up from the muck decorated with something small, wriggly, and palish-orange. At first glance, my memory banks rejected it as some kind of invertebrate, and I almost chucked it back into the mire, but then my brain finally stopped thinking in categories of diurnal and nocturnal quarry and agreed to identify the animal as a snake, albeit one that you're not supposed to find during the day, which was the cause for the confusion (A typical case of Christian Morgenstern's line "And thus in his considered view / what did not suit, could not be true
".) Yes, that thing was a very young Red Bamboo Ratsnake, the Taiwanese subspecies Oreocryptophis porphyracea kawakamii
, to be precise.
Some animals are much prettier as juveniles, and that's definitely the case here. Like with Oreocryptophis p. porphyracea
, the wide black bands in juveniles gradually fade with age, until only two thin black stripes on the sides of the former bands remain. Also, the orange coloration of this particular individual was much lighter than usual, a nice and welcome variation. I realize that I had merely scared him out of his daytime leaf litter bed, but finding night snakes during the day, no matter which way, is always a huge kick for me. This species loves cool environs and is therefore pretty much invisible during July and August, only coming out in Spring and Autumn.
On the way back to my scooter I met an elderly lady and her son, in the woods to walk their Akita and have a nice creek side picnic. Seeing their obvious bewilderment over my mud-caked appearance, I decided to have a friendly little chat with them (if only to keep them from believing that they'd encountered the Taiwanese version of Sasquatch) and introduce my activities. At one point, I took the little snake out of the bag to demonstrate the beauty of their native fauna, and the old lady was so enamored with the beast that when it was time for me to take off, she stuffed my backpack with bananas, blueberry jam sandwiches, and a big box of maki sushi
. Guess my future is secure: if the economy tanks again, I can always troll the woods, holding open-air talks about local reptiles for food......
BTW: Lest someone challenge my photographic skills - the little white specks on the animal are sand, not ISO-induced noise; likewise, the grainy bits on the head scales are actually lots of tiny dimples in the scales.
I kinda got sick of the usual leaf litter background, so I decided on a large Giant Taro leaf (Alocasia macrorrhiza
) for the background this time. I think the dark green provides a nice contrast for the orange snake.